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Farming

The changing role of women in farming today

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“Why can’t women be farmers in their own right?”: Rachael Davies

TO CELEBRATE International Women’s Day, the Farmers’ Union of Wales explored what working in the agricultural industry is like for women today.

Working in partnership are husband and wife team Geraint and Rachael Davies.

Speaking about her perception of women in farming, FUW member Rachael Davies, who farms 1,200 acres in Bala, Gwynedd, carrying 1,000 breeding ewes with 200 replacements and 30 suckler cows, in partnership with her husband Geraint, said: “Farmer’s daughter, farmer’s wife – why can’t women just be farmers in their own right rather than be defined by the nearest man who happens to farm?

“Women’s role within the agricultural industry has definitely changed in the past ten years with women being more openly and publicly involved, however, there is still some distance to go. Women have been grafters and decision-makers on family farms for centuries yet in the 21st century, we are still in the position of having to ‘prove’ ourselves or occasionally becoming pseudo-masculine to do so.”

She adds that one of the most frustrating questions to be asked as a mother of two daughters is ‘wouldn’t it be nice to have a boy, for the farm?’ But she is determined to get involved, lead by example and highlight that women are just as capable as men within the agricultural industry, both physically and intellectually.

“I urge women to get involved, make things more integrated, let’s encourage, engage – women have the skills that modern farming needs; we are natural multi-taskers, good communicators and used to hard work. More women need to be involved steering the direction of the industry; feeding into stakeholder groups who are still dominated by men, usually of a certain age and demographic,” adds Rachael.

Supporting her views is husband and FUW Meirionnydd County Vice Chairman, Geraint Davies. He said: “Behind every great man there is a greater woman, or so my grandmother has always told me. Until my grandparents retired in 2000 my grandmother kept the farm going through fuel for the men, the kettle was never far off boiling point on the Rayburn and a meal ready on the table.”

He recalls that the farmhouse was her domain and his grandmother was not involved in much of the decision making of the day to day running of the farm. The next generation, his parents, followed a similar suit with his mother being chief cook and bottle-washer but with slightly more involvement in the decision-making but not beyond the kitchen doorstep.

“Rachael started how she meant to go on by farming outside with me as well as making all decisions with me, no matter how small or big. Our business is very much based on partnership but we don’t necessarily always agree. I welcome her views and the challenges to my ideas and it works for our business. Rachael, like many modern farming women juggles employment off farm and family life alongside running the business. I now have two daughters and I see a bright future for them in farming (if they choose). I think farming needs more women involved: I’m fed up dealing with negative old men,” added Geraint.

But what is it like to be in charge of a farm holding with no men around? We spoke to FUW Brecon and Radnor administrative assistant Kath Shaw, who also farms 80 acres in Radnorshire in partnership with her mother, where they run a herd of red deer.

Kath and her mum Fran run the 80 acre deer farm together.

Kath completed an HND in Agriculture at Myerscough College and an AND in Deer Management at Sparsholt College and has worked in the deer industry ever since, setting up her own deer herd in 2004. Kath was born and grew up near London and whilst she did not come from a farming background, she was always encouraged to be outside and nurtured a healthy obsession with horses until the age of 16.

“Being a woman in agriculture has advantages and disadvantages. I have experienced low-level sexism in the industry throughout my working life, but have always deflected it with humour and if that hasn’t worked, by confronting the individual concerned.

“On the plus side, being a woman in a male dominated field has made me more memorable. In the last ten years farming has changed to become less focused on brawn as people are more aware of the importance of sensible working practices. This has benefited everyone as machinery becomes more sophisticated and equipment is developed to help with the heavier jobs. There is always a solution to a problem that doesn’t involve lifting heavy weights by hand!”

Kath also believes that the future of agriculture depends on people working as a team, be they male or female. She added: “Women have always worked in the background on farms. It is often the women who feed and check the stock while their husband goes off to do a day’s work somewhere else and I see no reason why they shouldn’t take a more prominent position on the farm.

“True, it is not very glamourous and you are unlikely to find a female farmer with a perfect French manicure or the latest designer clothes but the job satisfaction is huge and it’s so much better than sitting in an office, staring at the same four walls every day.”

Women also play a supportive role on farm. They offer a shoulder to cry on, an ear that listens.

Anwen Hughes, the FUW’s Ceredigion County Chairman and Younger Voice for Farming Committee vice chairman, farms around 138 acres, of which 99 acres are owned, 22.5 acres are on a lifetime farm tenancy and a further 17 acres are rented.

She keeps 100 pedigree Lleyn sheep, 30 purebred Highland sheep and 300 cross bred Lleyn and Highland ewes and has been farming since 1995 at Bryngido farm, just outside of Aberaeron in Ceredigion.

Anwen runs the farm on her own. In the current financial climate the farm business doesn’t make enough money to sustain more than one wage, so it’s up to Anwen to take care of the home farm.

She said: “Growing up around men in the agricultural industry I have found that as a woman you have to earn respect and make a man listen. You have to prove and show that you know what you are talking about. That can be quite intimidating at the start but by now I have no problem turning up to a meeting full of men. Money on farms has got tighter, so many farmers are turning to their wives for help on the farm.”

However it’s not all about being tough Anwen says. She thinks that women add a much needed soft touch to an industry that can be harsh and unforgiving in so many ways. She says “Women also play a supportive role on farm. They offer a shoulder to cry on, an ear that listens and are often in charge of the paperwork too. I think the role of women has changed dramatically over the years, with many of us also having to run the business side of things, look after the children and keep the household going.”

Managing Partner at AgriAdvisor, Dr Nerys Llewelyn Jones said: “In the Welsh agricultural industry the role of women within farming businesses is evident, with men and women working side by side in farming family businesses for decades in a manner to which other industries still aspire.

“A sustainable farming industry will need to encourage those with other skills and expertise to work within agriculture.”

“Were you asked to draw a picture of a farmer, the majority would surely draw a male character with a flat cap, a check shirt and wellingtons. This image is now a stereotype and those of us who have grown up within the industry and who have seen the inner dynamics of how a farming business works know that most major business decisions are decided around the kitchen table with input from all who work within the business, both male and female.

“The perceived barrier of the physical nature of farm work making it more ‘suitable’ for men, is becoming a myth, dispelled further by the increased availability and use of technology and innovation on farms. A sustainable farming industry will need to encourage those with other skills and expertise to work within agriculture and therefore women who may have had to work off-farm to supplement incomes will be in an excellent position to bring those additional skills to the farming table.”

“Things have changed, we have achieved the roles we hold due to our ability, our focus and drive.”

Alison Harvey, Agriculture Manager for Lamb at Dunbia, said: “I don’t feel as though I have to ‘deal’ with being a woman in the farming industry. This time has passed in Wales, we have moved on. Things have changed, we have achieved the roles we hold due to our ability, our focus and drive.

“My role means I work with farmers and retailers and I have never felt that being a women has either helped or hindered what I do. You have to work to gain experience and knowledge, and with this, people will respect you more – but this is about age and experience rather than being a woman.

“Women have been a vital role in farming for a lot longer than I have been around, it doesn’t matter what the role has been on the farm, and the fact is that women have always been important to agriculture. The best businesses I have come across have been partnerships, each knowing their strengths and weaknesses and working together to get the best from one another.”

The main change Alison thinks, and not just for women in agriculture, has been education: “Women have gone to University, or college, or to work in another business, and they have brought what they have learnt back to the business at home, or developed careers in particular areas.

“This is where I see most potential for agriculture, getting new skills into the business. As a result of their education women have more prominent roles in agriculture, we see women in roles that have traditionally had men in them. It is equality and balance that seems to work best, not one sex overpowering another, this is what we should aim for.”

RABI Wales Regional Manager Linda Jones said: “Many more women are embracing the opportunities available to them in farming than a decade ago. Farming has been traditionally viewed as a male-dominated industry but increasingly, women are choosing to immerse themselves fully in the farm business rather than settling for the roles of chief cook, bottle-washer and VAT returns person.

“Many more women are embracing the opportunities available to them in farming than a decade ago.”

“Women realise the importance of acquiring new knowledge, keeping up with technology and ‘up-skilling’ and are adept at finding new ways and opportunities to make money for the business. Diversification is another key area where women can excel. Their ability to think outside the box and not rely on traditional ideas can be inspiring.

“Women are the driving force behind many successful farming businesses, but their significant contribution is not always readily acknowledged outside the four walls of the home. Pride is such a major issue in the farming industry and I see this with my work for the farming charity, the Royal Agricultural Benevolent Institution (R.A.B.I). Pride prevents many farming people who are struggling financially from picking up the telephone and calling our Freephone helpline 0808 281 9490. Our work is strictly confidential but very often it is the woman of the farm who has the courage and strength to call the helpline and ask for help.”

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Farming

Staycation boom offers farms new revenue stream

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THE NUMBER of working farms looking to cash in on the boom in staycations has sky-rocketed, according to figures from Pitchup.com.

Of the 2,000 campsites listed on Pitchup.com – Europe’s largest outdoor accommodation provider – more than 700 are working farms and 300 of those operate temporary sites, set up to take advantage of the peak holiday season.
Many such sites have joined the business in the first quarter of 2021, eager to secure a post-COVID financial recovery.

The hike comes after a change in planning policy increased the length of time farms and other land-based businesses can legally operate a campsite without planning permission from 28 days to 56 days.

Other factors, Pitchup.com discovered, include concerns over falling support payments and Government plans to curtail farming through environmental policies which will disadvantage active farmers.

Dan Yates, founder of Pitchup.com, said farmers were turning to temporary campsites in droves because they are the quickest and easiest form of diversification to get off the ground.

He said: “Establishing a campsite is very easy. At their most basic, all you need is a patch of land and running water, which most farms have already, and some toilets, which are easy to hire. Crucially, you don’t need planning permission to operate one for up to 56 days per year.

“With staycations booming and that trend set to stay, people are crying out for beautiful areas of the countryside where they can enjoy a relaxing break away from the pressures of work and lockdown.

“Farmers are perfectly placed to provide that. The farm-based campsites we work with can decide how many guests they want to host and with demand as it is, we are extremely confident we can fill those pitches.”

Mr Yates added that as well as being quick, convenient, and unobtrusive on day-to-day farming operations, pop-up and permanent campsites can be very lucrative.

“Although most campsites don’t generate quite this level of income, even small pop-up sites – which are the easiest by far to accommodate – return on average £13,000 in extra revenue per year, and many take tens of thousands of pounds more than this.

“It’s hardly surprising, therefore, that they’re becoming so popular among farms and land-owning businesses. We expect to see many more farmers try this kind of diversification as we come out of lockdown and the summer gets closer.”

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Farming

FUW calls for Welsh policies for Welsh agriculture

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THE FUW has urged the incoming Welsh Government to develop bespoke, tailor-made policies that reflect global realities as well as Welsh economic, social, and environmental needs.

Five years ago, ahead of the 2016 Welsh Senedd elections, the Farmers’ Union of Wales warned of the unprecedented challenges facing the incoming Senedd Members and Government. Since then, those challenges have not only materialised but been exacerbated and added to. 

Outlining the big issues facing agriculture in Wales at a press conference, which launched the FUW’s 2021 Welsh Senedd Election Manifesto, FUW President Glyn Roberts said: “The materialisation of a far harder form of Brexit than had been promised by those who lobbied for our departure from the EU has restricted access to our main export markets on the continent in ways that are only beginning to be felt. 

“At the same time, the ongoing Covid-19 pandemic has changed our lives beyond recognition and has highlighted the fragility of global food supply chains and the importance of a strong farming sector on which our domestic markets should be able to rely upon for commodity products.

“While such issues have been largely beyond the control of our devolved administrations, the reaction of the Welsh Government to the uncertainty and challenges faced by our agriculture sector has at times been bewildering and counterintuitive, not least in terms of its appetite for drastically increasing costs and restrictions while advocating untried and untested reforms of rural support policies.”

Meanwhile, UK Government cuts to Welsh rural funding – in a direct contradiction to promises made repeatedly by those who advocated Brexit – have added to the pressures on Welsh agriculture, the rural economy, and Welsh Government, said the Union President.

Through its manifesto and ongoing lobbying work, the FUW continues to be clear that Wales’ family farms lie at the centre of our rural economy, culture, and landscape, supporting hundreds of thousands of jobs and tens of thousands of businesses involved in the Welsh food supply industry, and making innumerable other contributions to the well-being of Welsh and UK residents – benefits central to which is the production of food, our most precious commodity alongside water.

“Moving forward we need policies which reflect the need to mitigate climate change and protect our environment, but such aspirations must be tempered by the knowledge that sweeping changes that undermine our family farms and food production will merely shift production to countries with lower animal welfare standards and higher global and environmental footprints” said Glyn Roberts.

Highlighting the disappointment of members over the years with the current Welsh Government, Mr Roberts added that rather than feeling that industry concerns have been taken on board and seeing proportionate measures put in place to safeguard the agricultural  industry, many consider the current direction of travel as a betrayal of devolution which directly threatens the agriculture industry and the culture, language and way of life which are intrinsically linked to Welsh food production.

Speaking from his farm in North Wales, he added: “With this in mind, I make no apology for highlighting our members’ frustration about the lack of bespoke Welsh policies regarding future farmingscheme proposals and tackling water quality issues put forward by the current Welsh Government, and the distinct feeling that those who govern us from Cardiff Bay are now more remote from and indifferent to our rural communities than ever.

“Welsh farmers are proud to produce world-leading food to environmental, animal health and welfare and food safety standards that are second to none, but these need to be regulated in a proportionate manner which does not stifle innovation, create unjustified restrictions and place Welsh farmers at a severe competitive disadvantage against other countries’ agricultural produce.” 

Such concerns are particularly pertinent in an era when the UK Government is proactively seeking to sign trade deals with countries with production standards which fall well short of those already required of Welsh food producers, and while the aspiration that further raising standards will provide our producers with a competitive advantage in high-end markets is understandable, it is also naive given what the data tells us about widespread consumer indifference to such standards both here and around the globe.

“Alongside other critical issues and priorities outlined in this manifesto, the FUW urges the incoming Welsh Government and Senedd to develop bespoke, tailor-made policies that reflect such global realities as well as Welsh economic, social and environmental needs and the seven Welsh Well-being Goals; policies that maintain our already high standards while ensuring Welsh producers are not undermined in ways that lead to greater imports of food from those with far lower standards than our own,” said the Union President.

For the period of the next Welsh Senedd and beyond, the FUW is committed to lobbying all those in Cardiff to ensure that agriculture and family farms receive the attention and respect that they warrant – for the sake of all our futures.

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Farming

Appeal for dog walkers to keep pets under control during lambing season

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THE LAMBING season is upon us and with many public paths crossing fields of sheep, the Pembrokeshire Coast National Park Authority is appealing to dog walkers to follow best practice when out in the countryside.

While walking the Pembrokeshire Coast Path National Trail and other public footpaths and bridleways:

Always keep dogs on a short lead and under close control when sheep or any other livestock are present.
Clean up after your dog; bag it and bin it wherever you can or take it away –please do not leave poo bags in the countryside.

National Park Authority Public Rights of Way Officer, Meurig Nicholas said: “If your dog is out of your sight or left out of control, it may chase after, attack or worry sheep. Worried and stressed pregnant sheep can miscarry or abort their lambs.

“Young lambs are also very vulnerable at this time, and can get distressed and even die if they are separated from their mothers or abandoned after being chased by dogs.”

There have also been incidents where dogs have had to be rescued from cliffs because they were not kept under close control.

Mr Nicholas added: “These situations have resulted in emergency services such as the Coastguard and RNLI having to retrieve and rescue dogs. These incidents are avoidable and add unnecessary pressure to our busy emergency services.”

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